Wednesday 13 December 2017

Legend summed up by actions during '68 European Cup final

File photo dated 29/05/1968 of Benfica's Eusebio (right) celebrating after teammate Jaime Graca (left) scored the equalising goal past Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney during the European Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: PA Wire.
File photo dated 29/05/1968 of Benfica's Eusebio (right) celebrating after teammate Jaime Graca (left) scored the equalising goal past Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney during the European Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Photo: PA Wire.

Henry Winter

It was actually a moment when Eusebio did not score that embodied the essence of the great Portuguese forward, who has died aged 71. It was the moment when Benfica's No 10 ran through the middle of Manchester United's defence in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley, shot from 15 yards and was denied by Alex Stepney's fine save. Eusebio reacted by saluting his opponent.

It was actually more than a salute. Eusebio patted Stepney on the back as the goalkeeper climbed to his feet. He tapped him respectfully on the nape of his neck. He stepped back to allow Stepney to throw the ball out and then applauded the 'keeper. As Stepney retreated to his goal-line, Eusebio gave him a thumbs-up. It was an astonishing moment partly because, the score being 1-1, Stepney had just prevented Benfica from winning the game in normal time.

Eusebio could have been frustrated, could have cursed his luck, instead he acknowledged the qualities of an opponent. "I'm somebody who has always been a believer in fair play,'' Eusebio reflected years later.

He was more than a prolific goalscorer, more than a European Footballer of the Year and more than a European Cup winner. Eusebio epitomised the way the game should be played, with energy, precision, adventure, technique and, that rare quality, sportsmanship.

When encountered in recent years, he remained as humble as ever, modest about his magnificent playing achievements. Benfica held off Sporting Lisbon in the fight to sign the lad from Mozambique, paying Sporting Lourenco-Marques £7,500. Such was the anger of Sporting, who had links with the selling club, that Benfica kept Eusebio hidden in an Algarve village until the situation calmed. When Eusebio emerged, he scored a hat-trick on his 1961 debut. The rest is history.

The numbers reflect his brilliance as a goalscorer: 733 times in 745 games.

He scored 41 times in 64 Portugal appearances, including nine at the 1966 World Cup. Winner of the Ballon d'Or in 1965, Eusebio would have won successive European Footballer of the Year trophies but for the Portuguese journalistic representative casting his vote for Bobby Charlton, who prevailed by 81 points to Eusebio's 80.

The variety of Eusebio's finishes was phenomenal. There were headers, there were free-kicks, including one against United in 1966 from such long range that Stepney's predecessor, Harry Gregg, told his players he did not need a wall. Eusebio promptly drilled the ball in.

He would run on to a Jose Torres knock-down for Benfica and finish with a thunderbolt. Eusebio's strength allowed him to bend a ball far heavier than the flighty modern versions. He was lightning quick, able to escape quickly from opponents, also possessing that balance to glide through and score. He had to withstand man-marking, notably the rugged, incessant attentions of Nobby Stiles at the 1966 World Cup and also the 1968 European Cup final. He never complained. The quality of the man was summed up well by his compatriot, Jose Mourinho, speaking after Chelsea's win at Derby County yesterday. "For you, Eusebio is one of the greatest footballers of the history of football, especially for people from our generation and older than us,'' said Mourinho. "He's at this level. Eusebio, Charlton, Pele.

"For Portugal, he means more than that. No colour, no clubs, no political sides. For Portuguese people Eusebio is Eusebio and for sure you will get some images over the next couple of days and I think you will understand what Eusebio means for our country."

More than a footballer, Eusebio was an ambassador for the nation, an icon and sporting beacon. "I know him since I was a kid,'' added Mourinho. "He played against my father (Felix). He played with my father in the national team. I met him when I was a kid. Our birthdays were separated by one day. His January 25, I'm January 26. Every year when I was a kid he was sending me a shirt, a ball, a boot.

"The last time I met him was in Ukraine in the Euros, already after his first heart surgery. But he enjoyed his life, on the pitch, outside the pitch and I'm not so sad as I was in the morning because I think guys like him never die. History doesn't let them die. He leaves a great legacy. So rest in peace.'' (© Daily Telegraph, London)

The Black Panther - Eusebio factfile

* 25 January, 1942. Born in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique.

* 1957-60. Played for Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques.

* 1960-75. Joined Benfica for £7,500, going on to win 11 league titles and 1962 European Cup. Part of 1968 side that lost final to Manchester United.

* Named 1965 European Footballer of the Year.

* 1975-79. Ended career with spells at minor Portuguese, American and Canadian sides.

* Scored 41 goals in 64 games for Portugal. Emotional defeat in 1966 World Cup semi-final to England at Wembley.

* Top scorer at tournament with nine goals.

Irish Independent

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